South Korean film-maker Bong Joon-ho has created a class satire thriller that is as fresh as the struggle is long. Much praised at the 2020 SAG ( Screen Actors Awards) , Joon-ho’s
” Parasite” is only the second time a foreign language film has been nominated for ” Best Picture”. In 1997, ” Life Is Beautiful” , an Italian film, won.
” Parasite” first introduces us to a down and out family living in a basement apartment. They rely on fumigation from the street cleaners and wi-fi access from stray business signals. The scenes where they hold their phones up and down in a cramped space to get a signal are funny. A toilet crouch by the daughter ( Park So-dam) wins the connection. The family earns a semi-livelihood from folding pizza boxes. When a friend of teenager Ki-woo, Min, asks him to take over his English tutoring job in a wealthy enclave, the rich and the poor meet. Min gives Ki-woo his grandfather’s “suseok”, or ornamental rock , as a symbol of unity with the cosmos and of Confucian good luck.
Ki-Woo ( Choi Woo-sik ) and his family’s crowded and chaotic lives soon experience the peaceful calm and serene environment of wealthy architect, Park Dong-ik ( Lee Sun-kyun ) and his gullible wife Yeon-kyo ( Jo Yeo-jeong ). By a series of crazy maneuvers, the entire Kim family become service members for the Parks. They literally move in as domestic, chauffeur, and art therapist. Street fumes and stink bugs become things of the past for this family of wily con-artists.
The screenplay gets wilder and weirder as the Kim family infiltrates like leeches. With operatic music, ketchup is applied to the housekeeper’s Kleenex, and her allergies to peach fuzz all work to “confirm” TB. She is quietly dismissed and supplanted by Kim’s mom, Chung-sook ( Jane Hye-jin ).
None of Kim’s family pretends to know each other, and Kim has changed his name to Kevin. Anything Western is seen as a status symbol, presumably because of the cost. One of the funniest reoccurring scenes has Kim’s sister referring to herself as ” Jessica from Illinois”. In her new job as art therapist, she has the lingo down.
Da Song ( Jung Hyun-jun ) , the Parks’ young son, is an American Indian fanatic. True to form, he is indulged with tee pees and arrows and all matter of Native American art. He is perfect as the six-year-old, who knows how to “pretend” to all expectations! His sister, Da-hye ( Jung Ji-so) meanwhile develops a crush on tutor Kevin.
This is just the intro. The plot gets more original as a second sub-basement is found housing the original housekeeper’s husband, who is in even more financial straits than the Kim family. The Parks are so insulated by their wealth that they literally don’t know that someone lives below them. The Kims now have to wrestle their way out of layers of subterfuge.
How did society’s view of respectability get intertwined with the pursuit of money?
There are lots of questions under this skillfully crafted film. Out-sourcing all the work of living plays better to criticism than any crass materialism here. The Seoul pampered going camping is as funny as the symbiotic relationship of the underclass that helps itself to the liquor cabinet. When the river rock, or suseok, becomes a weapon, the nihilism of a darker world turns this movie into slasher fair. The camera moves like a weapon in rampage. Has Confucianism been contaminated by parasites of the global variety? Does money really “iron out the creases in life” as the crass mother of the Kims states? This class satire raises lots of questions.